Monjayaki: The Ugly Duckling of Japanese Food

Oh my tentacles of crispy goodness!

Oh my tentacles of crispy goodness! The monjayaki is served.

Okonomiyaki, the savory Japanese pancake, is loved by people far and wide, admired for it’s flavor, consistency, and enticing appearance. Then there’s monjayaki, okonomiyaki’s bastard cousin. Harsh words, but take a look at the “monja” pictured above. What comes to mind? Maintain a bit of decorum, please!

Monjayaki is a very thin battered version of okonomiyaki with far less cabbage. As a result, it doesn’t rise as it cooks, instead spreading out to be a very thin pancake. Based on its looks alone, monjayaki gets a lot of grief, but being mean and lean has its benefits. For one, okonomiyaki never gets as crispy as monja. Grilling the mix up to a crisp not only creates for different textures, but different flavors as well, what with those sugars caramelizing. Like okonomiyaki, it’s grilled up tableside and eaten by cutting off bits with your own personal, mini spatula.

A typically “throwing caution to the wind” monjayaki is the cheese-mentaiko (salted cod roe) creation. Start with a grand mix-up of pork, cabbage, chopped Japanese green onion, cheese, and tempura crumbs in measured amounts. Add in a hearty sac’s worth of mentaiko eggs, mix with a loose, flour-based batter, and get griddling. The edges will bubble and crisp, and the magical mélange will dutifully transform into something addictively scrumptious.

If you’re from Tokyo, you should wear your monjayaki eating ways proud! Tokyo is perhaps where monja receives both the most critical and popular acclaim. However, if you are in Osaka, eat it “on the down low,” possibly even in a dark room at an un-signed restaurant down a dark alley. Osaka celebrates it’s vibrant okonomiyaki culture as proof positive that it’s the best city for foodies in Japan. Suffice it to say, the Osaka people have little love for the Tokyo monja sect, for one reason because Osaka people tend to dislike Tokyo as a general rule, and for another that monjayaki looks like, well, you know what.

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Sushi and pickled ginger “gari” at restaurant Sushi Ken in Asakusa

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